Unheralded Burbank artist wins $200,000 in populist ArtPrize show

After taking more than three years off from the struggles of an emerging artist to become a mom, Adonna Khare of Burbank has returned in a big way.

She arrived home on Sunday after winning what’s probably the biggest people’s choice award in the arts: the $200,000 first prize in the ArtPrize competition that Rick DeVos, a scion of the Amway Corp. sales fortune, launched in Grand Rapids, Mich., in 2009.

Khare, 32, earned a master of fine arts degree from Cal State Long Beach in 2006, and has shown her carbon pencil drawings at the Lora Schlesinger Gallery in Santa Monica and the Municipal Art Gallery in L.A.'s Barnsdall Park. But she had remained among the ranks of little-known and underpaid aspiring artists.

Until Friday, when she won a monumental prize with a monumental carbon pencil mural called “Elephants.”


Khare said she arrived at the Grand Rapids Art Museum on Sept. 9 with an 8-foot-high by 35-foot-long version she’d created in her garage. She said she had entered the competition because she was ready to get back to regular art-making: “I needed a goal, and I wanted to experience ArtPrize.”

Over more than three weeks, as museum-goers watched her progress, the mural grew to 13 feet high and about 40 feet long. Khare said she was working frantically until the last minute before the votes were tallied, so she never got to figure out the exact dimensions.

Though it’s a vision of exotic animals, Khare said “Elephants” is also highly personal.

“It’s kind of a biography of my life transplanted into animals,” she said. “Sad things like loss and sickness, and happy things like the birth of my daughter.”

For example, she said, an orangutan hooked up to medical equipment is a stand-in for a young nephew who was diagnosed with diabetes, representing “the sickness of a child, and what it means to inflict pain in order for somebody to survive.”

She said the additions she made in Grand Rapids were not preplanned, and reflected her first long separation from her daughter, Kinsey, who is now 3. Her reunion with Kinsey and her husband, Eliot, who is director of technology for the information technology department at a television production company, came on Thursday when they flew in for the awards ceremony.

“I honestly didn’t think I stood a chance,” Khare said.

An estimated 400,000 people visited the ArtPrize installations, and more than 47,000 cast votes, according to the Associated Press. ArtPrize is intended to establish Grand Rapids as a hub for populist art-making and art enjoyment. The field, with works on display in multiple downtown venues, was winnowed in three rounds from the initial 1,517 entrants from 56 countries and 46 states to 10 finalists.

For the first time in its four-year run, ArtPrize also offered a $100,000 award decided by a jury of art experts rather than an open vote. They picked “Displacement, 13208 Klinger,” a found-artifacts installation by a Detroit couple, Mitch Cope and Regina Reichert, who assembled it from items found in an abandoned home at that Motor City address.

In all, $560,000 in prize money was awarded to the creators of 16 winning works.

“I’m going to buy a new mattress, because ours is the worst mattress in the world,” Khare said over the phone Sunday, shortly after her return to Burbank. “It’ll be a nice cushion, where I’ve never had that before,” she added, referring to the $200,000, not the new bed.

“Elephants” now belongs to ArtPrize and remains on view at the Grand Rapids Art Museum, Khare said. Meanwhile, she has another week left in her sabbatical from Sierra Canyon School in Chatsworth, after which she’ll go back to teaching art to her students, who range from kindergarten through sixth grade.

Khare said the Southland public looking to see more of her work will have to wait until next summer, when she’s scheduled to have a show at the Lora Schlesinger Gallery, her first -- apart from the serendipitous sojourn in Grand Rapids -- since her return from maternity leave.


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